Food & DrinkThe truth about fast food

The truth about fast food

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The globalization that characterizes the century in which we live seems to include even the food we eat. The statement is all the more true if we look at the specialists’ estimates regarding the imports and exports of food products, but also of restaurant chain franchises. Fast foods are expanding internationally at an amazing speed.

For example, in India, fast food sales increase annually by 40%. The percentage seems incredible! Although this is very profitable for the patrons of restaurant chains, the health of those who base their diet on such products can be seriously affected. It is true that fast food is rich in many nutrients, including calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin A, C, D and E, but it is also true that some can be considered calorie bombs, which are rich in unsaturated fats and which can increase very much the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity.

If we choose to eat in the city, fast food seems to be the cheapest and most convenient option. Unfortunately, not the healthiest. The food is made quickly, we take it as a package if time does not allow us to sit and eat it there and thus we save time and money, in a world where these two elements seem to be at a premium. And health passes through coded places. Very few times do we really think about what we eat, and it is true that the fast foods themselves make it very easy for us to choose them, because there are a lot of them.

Wherever we look, we can see a fast food, or a food kiosk. And if we don’t see it, we certainly know one near the house or the office, which will help us get out of the deadlock when we think: What should we eat? Lately, it seems that we are more and more suffocated by fast food. I’m everywhere! In hypermarkets, in shopping centers, on the street, even in gas stations. We are also encouraged to eat fast food as often as possible: radio or TV commercials, but also attractive ways of attracting consumers are some of the elements that have made fast food a quasi-constant element in our lives.

Over time, there have been many rumors about the food and also about the restaurants that sell it. Not a few times, such rumors have reduced sales, and made manufacturers pay more attention to the content of the products. However, fast food remains one of the main types of food included in the generic term junk-food. Such a term usually describes foods very rich in calories, but poor in nutritional values. The definition and the foods that fall into this category vary a lot, depending on the type of specialist asked: nutritionist, pediatrician, family doctor.

Many even consider pizza junk food. However, its belonging to this category is disputed, because it can contain cheese, tomatoes, meat, which have real nutritional principles. If the top is made of wholemeal flour and has vegetable toppings, there are no reasons for it to be classified as unhealthy foods. Some cereals, which have an excessively high content of sugar and carbohydrates, are sometimes considered junk food. In these cases, the benefits brought to the body by the fiber content are exceeded by the risks associated with the high percentage of carbohydrates.

One of the most important problems associated with fast food products is that they do not provide the body with nutritional principles, as they are very rich in salt and fat. This combination is a nightmare for doctors, and its results become visible in a short time: changes in appearance, overweight, acceleration of metabolic processes, development of insulin resistance, favoring the appearance of chronic diseases: dyslipidemia, diabetes. Their consumption does not induce a state of satiety, even if from a nutritional point of view the calories supplied to the body are sufficient. As a result, the tendency is to consume as much as possible, which eventually leads to overeating. The risk of overweight (and obesity) is, in such situations, even higher.

Another inconvenience is that fast food can replace other, much more nutritious and healthier products. Carbonated juices end up replacing dairy products, natural juices, and teas. Fresh fruits are replaced with small quick snacks, and most of the vegetables included in the menus are fried potatoes and green salad. Fast food has changed a lot over time, but the truth about it is still debatable. How dangerous are they for health, in fact? Are the risks that great, or should the reasons for concern not concern us so much? The specialists considered it necessary for these data to be clarified, and for consumers to know as well as possible what they are buying and to be able to decide, knowing the cause, if the respective product is good or not.

The most popular quick snacks are chips, doughnuts, lollipops, chocolate bars, cakes. They are packed directly by the manufacturer, we can quickly consume them on the go, or at the office, and in addition, they are delicious. Even if they are categorized as “snacks”, we must not underestimate their contribution to the daily caloric intake. Although they seem small, they can bring a lot to the body. And not always what he needs. Regular consumption of snacks and fast food seems to significantly increase the body mass index.

A classic menu eaten at a fast food restaurant, consisting of a hamburger, fries and a soft drink can bring over 1500 calories per serving, given that the total daily requirement is around 2000 calories (necessary calculated for a young, healthy adult with moderate physical activity). Specialists appreciate that, over time (the analyzed period being 1977-1996), the contribution of snacks to the caloric intake, especially of children aged between 2-5 years, has increased by over 30%. This seems to be the percentage of teenagers who consume fast food daily. Their diet is very severely modified, because most of the calories come from carbonated drinks, from fried products, from carbohydrates, while dairy products.

Fast food and the risk of overeating

The food at fast food seems very diverse: chicken, chops, hamburgers, sandwiches of the most varied, sauces, fries, salads, beans, desserts, ice cream, juices… And the list can go on. Even in such situations, regardless of the options, and regardless of how they are combined, the choice of fast food remains unhealthy.

The most affected in the long term are loyal consumers, those who eat fast food every day. Alarmed by the fact that more and more children prefer such food, but also by the fact that it is consumed in high quantities, the specialists investigated the problem and came to the conclusion that there is actually something typical of fast food that determines this excessive consumption. In the study that revealed this observation, teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 were included, who were offered fast food at three meals. This included fried chicken pieces, fries and a fizzy drink.

At the first meal, food was served in large quantities, only once. At the second meal, the quantity was smaller, and at the third meal, a large amount of food was served again, but in smaller portions, at intervals of 15 minutes. The conclusion was that, regardless of how much food was served , teenagers still couldn’t get enough, despite the fact that a lot of their daily calories came from such foods.

Specialists have suggested that there are certain factors that stimulate this overeating, the main culprits being: – Low fiber content; – Good taste; – The existence of a high number of calories in small-sized foods; – High fat content; – High carbohydrate content, especially in liquid form.

Another study published in 2006 demonstrated that the dangers of fast food are real. The studies were done on laboratory animals, they received a diet suitable for them, but which had a caloric content identical to that of the products from the menus of fast food restaurants. The results indicated that the animals with such a hypercaloric diet developed abdominal obesity, unlike the groups that did not receive a diet rich in unsaturated fats. The group with hypercaloric food was tested and it was demonstrated that in these cases signs of insulin resistance appeared, an early indicator of diabetes.

It seems, however, that the dangers associated with these products are not only limited to an exaggerated intake of unsaturated fats, carbohydrates, calories, but also to food poisoning. If the products are not properly processed, if they are not fried more and are served insufficiently prepared thermally in the haste with which they are made, there is a real possibility of their contamination with various bacteria. This risk also exists if such products are stored in unsanitary places or are kept for too long at inappropriate temperatures. E. coli and Salmonella are among the most frequent bacteria incriminated in such food poisoning. Gastroenteritis that occurs secondary to the consumption of contaminated food are not only strictly theoretical health problems that patients can face, but represent concrete cases.

Currently, most advertisements for food products, especially those aimed at children, promote high-calorie products, rich in salt and sugar and low in fiber and vitamins. The advertisements do their job, and children are encouraged to ask their parents, who in the end buy them.

British specialists conducted a study in which they included children aged between 9-11 years. They were shown advertisements for food and toys and then they were offered food. It was observed that after watching food ads, children ate more than after watching toy ads. Obese children who were included in the study increased their food intake the most after watching the ads (134%), compared to overweight children (101%) and normal weight children (84%).

How to improve the nutritional value of fast food

Knowledge is power, and this is true even for food. It is very important to know as much as possible about what we eat, so that we can make the best choices. Part of this information is currently provided, even by the producers, out of the desire to present consumers with as much as possible about the products offered.

Specialists know that it is not easy to avoid fast food, especially when we have a busy schedule that does not allow us to eat quietly, if we have to limit ourselves to hamburgers and fries in order to have energy to face busy days. That’s why they offer us some practical solutions, because no one likes to hear only that what they eat is unhealthy, without being presented with alternatives.

Below are some recommendations aimed at avoiding the dangers induced by excessive consumption of hypercaloric foods: – Choose carefully the restaurant where you eat. Even between fast foods there are differences, and some offer healthier food than others. In general, the big chains try to adapt to criticism and modify their products, so as not to lose their customers. Smaller chains do not attach such great importance to these details; – Avoid products deep fried in oil, those with many sauces, mayonnaise, or au gratin. These are the ones that are usually rich in unsaturated fats and have an exaggerated sodium content; – Replace carbonated juice with water. Even if your menu comes with a juice, it is better to drink water. Some juices are so hypercaloric that a large glass can bring even 500 calories. If the natural juices are made on the spot, and the fruits are squeezed in front of you, they can represent a healthy alternative, otherwise, be careful. A 100% natural juice is not always like that! – Choose a natural dessert. Some restaurants also sell fruit, making your choices easier. Opt for an apple rather than an apple pie! – Choose pizza, salads or sandwiches with wholemeal bread and not fries, fried chicken or ribs “dipped” in sauce. – Try to put as few sauces as possible on salads, even if the taste is not preserved. The more sauces there are, the less the importance of the vegetables consumed, because the salad ends up being rather rich in lipids and calories than in nutrients and vitamins. – Reduce the portions you order. It would be best if they were small or at most medium. Even the fried potatoes should not be in large portions, because they contain a lot of salt. – Avoid adding spices and salt. Such products are already salted and spiced (sometimes excessively), so try to limit yourself to what the respective product already contains.

Specialists are of the opinion that we should also limit the time we spend watching TV, both for us and for our children. There are programs during which the commercial breaks abound in advertisements for unhealthy foods, and thus stimulate everyone’s desire to consume them. It is very important that, wherever we eat, we do not forget the fact that everything we choose to consume ends up influencing the body, in one way or another.

Even if the effects are not felt immediately, over time there is a risk that fast food contributes to the appearance of dyslipidemic syndromes, stimulates atherosclerosis of the vessels, not to mention the impact it has on the physical appearance. A body that feels good, looks good. Being overweight is not only risky from an aesthetic point of view, but also from a general health point of view. And this is an aspect that we must not forget when we enter a fast food.

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